Culture

Andi and Miquita Oliver: ‘We learned to drink without shame in Barbados’

“We’re like Batman and Robin – obviously, I’m Batman.” Andi Oliver, 58, is with her daughter, Miquita, 37, bunkering down in a coastal cottage in Hastings for a while to recuperate after a busy 12 months of working together. “We just want to sleep for a bit,” groans Miquita. But between bickering over which houses are the best to peek into on walks back home in east London, bursting into unstoppable deep belly laughs every five minutes, and occasionally pausing our conversation to answer the calls of other family members, it becomes clear that a restful time isn’t something the Oliver women experience much of.

Both have successful television careers in their own rights (TV chef Andi is now a regular on weekend cooking shows; Miquita is best known for hosting 00s hit teen-show Popworld) but, in recent years, mother and daughter have merged their professional paths. It started with a BBC roadtrip show in 2018, Eight Go Rallying: The Road to Saigon, which saw them drive 3,000km around south-east Asia in a Morris Minor. They gained a deeper understanding of each other, and got a flair for working together, so when the pandemic hit, the pair formed a bubble and started an irresistibly upbeat Instagram series, What’s for Dinner Mummy?, documenting the joy of cooking. They also charmed viewers on Celebrity Gogglebox. Separately they are great – but united, they have an endorphin-pumping energy that can force a toothy smile out of anyone.

Their next project is BBC Two’s culture series The Caribbean With Andi and Miquita, which airs on Sunday. “My parents grew up on different ends of the same street in St John’s in Antigua,” recalls Andi, “but they didn’t actually meet until they moved here and went to a dance in Leicester.” It’s this sort of tale that has always piqued her curiosity about her heritage, but it’s taken a while for her daughter to catch up.

“Mum treated me to a trip to Antigua for my 11th birthday, but I didn’t want to go if I’m honest; I was young, settled at school and probably in love with a boy I didn’t want to leave behind,” giggles Miquita, fully aware of how brattish it sounds now. “She was a moody teenager!” Andi quickly interrupts. “She didn’t get the personal, familial, gut-wrenching ‘connection’ that I wanted her to have.”

The new show was the pair’s second shot at it; they had been trying to get it commissioned for nearly five years. “This kind of story has always been really important to us – and the world – it just wasn’t given a platform,” says Miquita. “But the Black Lives Matter movement blowing up – it gave us the opportunity to tell what we’d wanted to for a long time.”

Not only did the duo finally get the chance to showcase their story, they were able to do it as more than just the stars of the show they pitched – they are also producers. “It’s a big deal for us,” says Andi, of roles that saw her and Miquita work closely with the director, and get their teeth stuck into the editing. “We realised a dream to be more than presenters after broadcasting for so many years.”

The pair also hope their adventure will help to change people’s perceptions of their destination: “In the UK, there’s a sort of homogenised idea of the Caribbean,” says Miquita. “It becomes one island, usually Jamaica. To the point where I – a woman of Caribbean descent – didn’t even really know much about the other islands.”

Andi and Miquita Oliver.
Swim deep … Andi and Miquita go diving. Photograph: Errol Ettienne/BBC/Somethin’ Else

This is rectified as the intrepid travellers explore the Caribbean island by island (Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados), meeting islanders to get a real sense of local life and – most importantly – learning the different ways they let their hair down. “In Barbados, you have a beer with your food at 8am on a Saturday morning and basically go on a pub crawl,” says Andi (in stitches of laughter). “This lovely man called Ryan took us out and he said it’s all a respected part of culture,” chirps Miquita (also chuckling away). “In Barbados they don’t drink with guilt or shame. I was talking to my friends about this the other day – I learned a lot about that – eradicating the shame that comes with having a drink in the UK and just having fun.”

Food and drink was always going to be a big – and very welcome – part of the show with Andi involved (she opened Wadadli, a Caribbean food pop-up, in her local pub in Clapton, east London, during the pandemic). In fact, she says she is infuriated by how misunderstood Caribbean food is in the UK. “People often call it Jamaican food, which drives me up the wall. Every island has its own version of Caribbean food. People have travelled through the Caribbean islands for all sorts of reasons and left their imprint in the DNA and the food. There’s a dish in Antigua called ‘vina dosh’ which is a really old way of cooking pork marinated in vinegar; in Portugal there’s a dish called ‘vinah d’alhos’ which is also pork marinated in vinegar; then in India there is a dish called ‘vindaloo’ …”

“She loves telling that story,” Miquita rolls her eyes before cracking up again.

Did they find a new connection to the islands? “Without giving too much away, we had DNA tests done and they were quite mind-blowing. Expect lots of ugly crying on the telly,” howls Andi. “We were there at a time of change: Barbados became a republic last year and is now run by two incredible women [president Sandra Mason and prime minister Mia Mottley],” adds Miquita. “It felt serendipitous being there.”

While many women would balk at the thought of working so closely with their mother or daughter full-time – regardless of how well they get on – these two make it look easy. It would be enviable, if they weren’t so likable. “We did some crazy things together; we were terrified when we went deep-sea swimming! To be a mother and daughter on an adventure together and show what it’s really like: the truths of it, the ins and outs, the ups and downs … we’re really proud of that,” says Miquita, in a suddenly more serious tone.

“My mum was a single parent until my stepdad came along. We’re used to being a team: Mum was 20 when she had me, so it was a baby looking after a baby. We’ve always looked after each other and this just feels like an extension from how it started.”

“Aw, that’s lovely!” coos Andi. They pause for a millisecond – and then the laughter erupts once more.

The Caribbean With Andi and Miquita is on BBC Two on Sunday at 9pm.

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